‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Review: The Brilliant Crime of Capitalism

Zig Marasigan

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Is the movie really just a dark comedy about Wall Street brokers, or is it a reflection on the capitalist beast in all of us?

THE WOLF. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) toasts his success in 'The Wolf of Wall Street.' Screengrab from the film's Facebook account

MANILA, Philippines – Jordan Belfort is a drug addict. Forget the cocaine and Quaaludes; money is his real addiction. On his first day as a certified stockbroker, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself jobless after the stock market crash of 1987. But after discovering the opportunity in trading penny stocks, Belfort starts a trading firm that earns itself the reputation for selling everything, including his principles. 

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on real life stockbroker Jordan Belfort whose well-documented rise and fall as a Wall Street trader has made him into a flesh-and-blood Gordon Gekko. But while the film’s story is admittedly familiar, director Martin Scorsese’s depiction of Wall Street debauchery is as scandalous and vivid as we’ve ever seen it. 

The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t waste time on the petty intricacies of the business itself; instead, it focuses on the high-rolling lifestyle of guys on Wall Street who are always hungry for more. It’s a world of drugs, sex and extravagance. But what starts off as an entertaining joyride with the young and wealthy ultimately becomes a predictable crash into the pits of Wall Street. 

Director Martin Scorsese is once again reunited with male muse Leonardo DiCaprio, and the result is as stylishly flamboyant as an actor like DiCaprio manages to make it. For Scorsese, the executives and brokers of Wall Street are the new brand of criminal. But instead of guns and ammunition, these gangsters are armed with something more dangerous – our own money.  

From Ambitious to Gluttonous

Since the film’s release in the United States, Scorsese has been openly criticized for championing the amoral actions of the real wolves of Wall Street. Scorsese’s fascination with the criminal mind does lend itself to a fair amount of romanticism, which makes him an easy target for critics. But to claim that his film endorses the criminal activity of Belfort and his crew oversimplifies the picture that The Wolf of Wall Street tries to paint.

The Wolf of Wall Street is nauseating in its obscenity. While entertaining at first, the film quickly becomes cold and devilishly callous. But that’s exactly the kind of life Belfort and his colleagues lead. The Wolf of Wall Street has been publicly marketed as a kind of dark-humored comedy, but the punchlines in this film aren’t meant to delight for long.  

There is an intentional hopelessness to the film, punctuated by Belfort’s own steep decline from ambitious to gluttonous. And though there is something twisted and yes, funny, about watching a drugged up 30-something crash a helicopter into his backyard, it’s also undeniably pitiful. While Scorsese’s choice of subject matter may say a lot about him as a filmmaker, it says a lot more about us as audiences, who are admittedly drawn to films like The Wolf of Wall Street. 

Watch the trailer for the film here: 


The Criminal Code

When it comes down to it, we all have a little bit of Belfort in our blood. We are citizens of a society defined by its finances, and we are all just as addicted to the high of money. Belfort simply had the gall to make a career out of it. Despite our noblest intentions and most unyielding principles, the film succeeds in provoking our fantasies to be like Belfort if only for a split, vulnerable, second.

While previous Scorsese anti-heroes have held themselves to a certain code, the wolves of Wall Street are driven by little more than the basic capitalist desire to amass wealth, making them far more despicable than Scorsese’s most fiendish villains. But while it’s easy to villainize Belfort and his conspiring brokers, it’s difficult not to lust over the same materialistic extravagances afforded by their lifestyle.  

The Wolf of Wall Street admittedly lacks complexity. After all the sharp dialogue and highly-stylized scenes are pushed aside, there’s very little else to mine out of the film’s story, characters and themes. While this may end up troubling audiences who have come to expect more from a filmmaker like Scorsese, it’s also a telling statement on the simplicity of greed. 

Maybe that’s exactly Scorsese’s point. Greed isn’t complicated. Instead, it is consuming, overwhelming and, sadly, entirely human. The Wolf of Wall Street is the kind of film that leaves an audience entertained, but inevitably hollow. But it’s also the kind of movie that succeeds by doing just that. –Rappler.com


Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.


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